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January 10, 2013

GOP bills aid NOAA, not fishing

Replacing virtually all fisheries disaster relief for Massachusetts and seven other states in the Senate’s Hurricane Sandy supplemental spending bill, Republican House Rules Committee amendments feature $261 million for two highly controversial programs at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration unaffected by the superstorm.

One line item in the two amendment package calls for spending $150 million for “Regional Ocean Partnership grants,” which fund non-government organization involvement in the National Ocean Policy’s “marine spacial planning” initiative.

The other item authorizes spending $111 million on a “weather satellite data mitigation gap reserve fund.”

The National Ocean Policy and marine spatial planning efforts — described by critics as “ocean zoning” — were created in 2010 by an executive order signed by President Obama; the policy has been bitterly criticized as executive overreach by Rep. Doc Hastings, the Republican chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee, which has held a series of hearings on the policy.

The hearings emphasized that Congress repeatedly rejected legislation to apply marine spatial planning before it was initiated unilaterally by the White House.

The weather satellite program is troubled by the likelihood that existing satellites will reach the end of their productive lives before NOAA is able to replace them, and has been the subject of auditing criticism by the Office of the Inspector General of the Department of Commerce.

A Sept. 27, 2012, inspector general’s audit “concluded that while progress has been made, the program’s capabilities, schedule, and cost baselines remain uncertain.” The audit also found that NOAA has not articulated an acquisition strategy for either of the satellites for which contractual and technical decisions must be made in the coming year.”

Both line items are found in the $33.677 billion amendment by Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen, a New Jersey Republican, filed together with a $17 billion amendment by Rep. Hal Rogers, a Kentucky Republican and chairman of the House Appropriations Committee.

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